UAlberta students host free walker clinic for Edmonton's inner city community

The partnership with Boyle Street Community Centre and Alberta Health Services brings more access and mobility to our inner city community

Rob Curtis - 13 February 2020

If you need a walker, for most people, it's a straightforward process to obtain one. But for Edmonton's homeless and underhoused citizens, there are many barriers that stand in the way.

The Department of Occupational Therapy at the University of Alberta's Faculty of Rehabilitation Medicine is working with Boyle Street Community Services and Alberta Health Services (AHS) to help remove those barriers at today's community walker clinic. The team made up of two MSc Occupational Therapy students, two Edmonton occupational therapists and Boyle Street staff are providing walker and mobility assessments at the community centre downtown, in partnership with medical equipment supplier Healthcare Solutions.

Bringing this clinic right into the heart of Edmonton's downtown is the best way to make it possible for many community members to access this kind of service. A number of the people served by the clinic are eligible to receive a walker through the health care system, but it can be difficult to go through the usual channels without a fixed address-or mental health issues may make parts of the process challenging. At the Boyle Street walker clinic, the staff is ready to actively help clients through the entire process, and they can often leave with a walker that same day. As well, people with walkers that are in need of repair or adjustment can come in to have that work done at no charge.

"Many of the clients at the walker clinic are homeless, and living on the streets can take a serious toll on their equipment," says Loraine Kolber, fieldwork educator for independent community placements in the U of A Department of Occupational Therapy. "Others may be using equipment that is in need of adjustment or repair so that it can be used safely."

On hand to work with clients are Ayslin Bubar and Jessica Tai, second-year occupational therapy students at the University of Alberta. As part of their clinical placement, Bubar and Tai will be working with the occupational therapists to assess clients' needs, provide education on walker safety, and facilitate the overall process for clinic attendees, but the experience will go deeper than that for them.

"We're looking forward to making connections with people and listening to their narratives and their histories," says Tai. "This experience will provide so much insight into the barriers that people face and the impact that a walker can have on their lives."

The impact on the Boyle Street community is substantial. The experience of being homeless and living in poverty requires people to be on their feet a lot, walking between services. Kaitlin Lauridsen, manager of mental health services with Boyle Street Community Services, remembers one individual who came to a previous walker clinic with a run-down walker that wasn't suitable for the winter or his needs at all. "He wasn't eligible for a new walker," she recalls, "but we fit him for a used walker. He was so thankful, he wanted to give us his last five-dollar bill as a thank-you for the walker. We assured him that was very kind, but not necessary."

And for the students, this experience will resonate long into their careers.

"A big part of occupational therapy is advocating for people, especially for those who have barriers," says Bubar. "It's a real honour to be a part of this clinic, to see occupational therapists in action, to help out, and to connect with this community."